What Role Does the Surface of a Work of Art

What Role Does the Surface of a Work of Art Play

in the Evolution of Modernism?

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This all excessively brief essay will get down with an scrutiny of what modernism in art really is, before discoursing the significance of the surface with peculiar mention to Matisse and Boccioni, two creative persons who, at the beginning of the modernist motion, experimented with surface in both two and three dimensions ; and therefore contributed to development of the modernist motion.

When was the modernist motion?

When measuring a motion in art history, it is helpful to analyze both the motion that preceded it and the one which antecedes it, in order to come to a Fuller apprehension of that motion itself. This is because any new motion is necessarily a reaction against that which has come before ; likewise it provides the foundations for the motion that is to come after. The chief dominating aesthetic motion of the 20th century was modernism ; nevertheless, this term is likely best understood as an umbrella, depicting a slackly related aggregation of motions in art and aesthetics. More specifically it is tied to the earlier half of the 20th century and is seen as a reaction against classicalism and a precursor to postmodernism [ 1 ] Modernism was “broadly talking, the cultural result ofmodernness,the societal experience of life in the modern world” [ 2 ]

What is the modernist motion?

The early half of the 20th century was peculiarly characterised by rapid and frequently disruptive alteration in all countries of life ; the universe was transformed by industrialization and urbanization. As we have said, modernism, as an aesthetic motion was the cultural result of life in the modern universe. The modern universe at this clip was chiefly marked by alteration ; hence, it is alteration that chiefly marks modernism. When we examine all of the humanistic disciplines in the early 20th century, we notice the common desire to try to redefine each peculiar cultural subdivision in inquiry. Modernism is hence about ambiguous to iconoclasm. It was peculiarly in the ocular humanistic disciplines that the effects of modernism were peculiarly felt. In the utmost many centuries worth of cognition of workmanship and proficient expertness were abandoned By and large talking, pre the modern period, art was judged harmonizing to how good it represented its object ; in other words, how lifelike it was. Conversely “the modern period is marked by redefinition of humanistic disciplines map in picturing as ‘real’ a representation of the universe of appearances” . [ 3 ] The ill-famed “ready-mades” of Marcel Duchamp, produced in the early 20th century, approximately co-occuring with the beginning of the modernist motion, are a peculiarly good illustration of this type of reversal. Here Duchamp is disputing the position of art as lifelike ; in his piece entitledFountain[ 4 ] , which is a ready-madeexistentupside-down urinal. Paradoxically alternatively of art being lifelike, existent life has become art-like.


Merely as the ocular humanistic disciplines were most profoundly affected by modernism over other art signifiers, so within the ocular humanistic disciplines we see a similar type of hierarchy ; “the version of modernism that dominated art history is painting, whilst sculpture is seen as a 2nd order art form” . [ 5 ] Curiously plenty, in a motion which is so closely bound to alter and to iconoclasm, we see the puting up of a new type of orthodoxy, viz. , the laterality of pigment as the medium and two dimensions art as the signifier. In which instance I propose that it is in the sphere of sculpture, which is non needfully pained, nor is it level ; that most genuinely marks the spirit of the iconoclasm of modernism.

We have said that modernism can be defined as a reaction against classicalism ; it is in the context of position and therefore the surface of a work of art that this challenge to classicalism can be noted. Classical position attempts to stand for, for the spectator, objects as they appear in three dimensions, in a two dimensional field. Modernist creative persons reacted against the built-in artificiality of the hegemony of classical position, which “denies its ain artificiality and lays claim to being ‘a natural’ representation of ‘the manner things look’” . [ 6 ] Matisse’The Red RoomorDesert: Harmony in Red[ 7 ] lampoons classical perspectivism: “there is no semblance of deferral, but the obviously level surface with no manner of looking through it and no assurance as to ‘a universe beyond’ at all. In its drama of semblances it exposes the semblances of perspectivism itself, its built-in artifice” . [ 8 ] Therefore in this Matisse picture, typical of the modernist motion, we see that the surface of the work – its flatness – encourages “an consciousness that everything that is needed is in the image – there is no demand to travel ‘beyond’ or ‘behind’ . The picture constitutes itself as ego sufficient ; it is the dealingss, the forms, that are central.” [ 9 ] In the same manner that Matisse approached position so Boccioni approached the still life. Boccioni wanted to do the point, with his art, that ‘objects ne’er end’ in his workThe Development of a Bottle in Space“The Bottle is opened up, its inside placed in a province of balance with the exterior” . [ 10 ] This interaction of nothingness and solid, of concave and convex surfaces inspired a whole coevals of sculpturers, who, near the bend of the 20th century, started to use this cubist technique [ 11 ] to interpret sculpture.

Modernism is defined by its capacity for alteration and reaction ; we can see that the surface of a work of art, that is the effort to stand for three dimensions in either two or three dimensions, is no less capable to the iconoclasm of modernism. The two creative persons, Matisse and Boccioni, at the beginning of the modernist motion, experimented with surface and therefore reacted against the norms of classical perspectivism, and yet besides heralded the station modernist motion.


A. Bowness,Modern European Art( London 1972 )

J. Jervis,Researching the Modern: Patterns of Western Culture and Civilisation( Oxford 1998 )

P. Meecham & A ; J. Sheldon,Modern Art: A Critical Introduction( London 2000 )

W. J. T. Mitchell,Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology( Chicago 1987 )

P. Wood ( ed. ) ,The Challenge of the Avante-Garde( London 1999 )


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